Peacock State Park
Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park is home to the Peacock/Orange Grove cave system. This is a series of honeycombed passageways totalling 9,000 m/30,000 ft. It is among the most popular of all Florida cave dives.
What sets Peacock apart from other Florida cave systems are its multiple entry and exit points. “Normal” entrances include Orange Grove Sink, Peacock I and Waterhole III — but you can also surface to breathable air at Challenge. Olsen and Pothole Sinks.
Peacock is 25 minutes south of Live Oak, ten minutes north of May and 30 minute northwest of Branford. Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park shows up readily on most smart phone and GPS navigation systems.
There is a single entrance to the park. Shortly after pulling in, you’ll find a self-service kiosk. Here you need to do two things:
- Pull an admission envelope from the dispenser, insert the modest admission fee and attach the tear-off portion to your mirror. Put the sealed envelope into the slot on the dispenser.
- Adjacent to the dispenser is a stand with a sign-in clipboard. List your name, certification level and training agency here.
From here, drive to the parking areas at either Orange Grove or Peacock. Bear in mind that if the designated parking slots are taken, you will need to dive somewhere else. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen very often. When you park, you will also need to leave your certification card prominently displayed on your dash.
The most upstream point of the main cave system is Orange Grove Sink, located near the park entrance. Orange Grove is actually an offset sinkhole, whose passageway has minimal flow until it intersects with the Distance Tunnel, over 240 m/800 ft downstream.
Depending on water levels and other conditions, water will actually flow out of Orange Grove, pass over a short land bridge, then re-enter the ground at Cisteen Sink. This generally takes place only during flood conditions, when the system is undiveable.
The Orange Grove basin is generally very clear in wintertime (except for when it floods); however, during warmer months, there can be an algae bloom down to 21 m/70 ft. Below the cave system entrance is a large cavern, with depths to 30 m/100 ft. From here, another passage leads downward to “Lower Orange Grove,” a very advanced cave with lots of silt and depths to 55 m/180 ft.
Heading downstream, there is a short gap in the main line at Challenge Sink (so named because it is a real challenge getting in and out here; ropes are required). Continuing downstream. Divers can either swim all the way to Olsen Sink. or take the system’s other gold line down the Peanut tunnel to the main entrance at Peacock I Spring. Olsen is designated as an emergency exit; entries were once allowed here but were later deemed to dangerous due to the sink’s steep, slippery banks.
Downstream of Olsen, the main line continues over 490 m/1,600 ft to the Peacock I Spring entrance, with a short gap at Pot Hole sink (another “emergency only” exit). The Peacock system is unique in that it has not one, but two gold lines, beginning upstream at the Peanut restriction, and paralleling one another all the way to the Peacock I Spring entrance.
The lower portion of the system is crisscrossed with numerous tunnels. Divers can begin upstream of Olsen on a loop that will take them to Cisteen sink, then allow them to return to the main line, via the Nicholson Tunnel, just upstream of Pot Hole sink.
An offshoot tunnel from the Cisteen loop takes divers to “The Crypt.” This is a sudden plunge to depths approaching 100 feet. The map suggests this connects to Lower Orange Grove. Famed cave explorer Woody Jasper tried to connect the two for a while, then quit, deciding that continuing to live was better. In other words, stay out.
Another popular dive is to enter the system at Waterhole III (so named because a railroad spur used to bring steam locomotives here to take on water), and traverse to the main entrance via the Peanut line. The two entrances are less than 60 m/200 feet apart, yet traversing the two is an 335 m/1,100 foot swim.
Depths throughout the various Peacock systems are relatively shallow, seldom going below 21 m/70 ft. Exceptions are Lower Orange Grove, The Crypt, Hendley’s Castle and the tunnel to Peacock II, which reaches a depth of 24 m/80 feet. These shallow depths, combined with the easy availability of Nitrox at nearby dive centers, means that you can pretty much leave your deco gas at home when diving Peacock.
A short distance from Peacock I are Peacock II and III. Peacock II is no longer open to the surface; however, you can get to what was once the cavern via a series of tunnels from Peacock I.
The Peacock III cave system has no diveable connection to the Peacock/Orange Grove system. It is very silty and relatively shallow — except for a dramatic drop to depths of 60 m/200 ft at Hendley’s Castle. Due to factors that include low visibility, abundant silt and siphoning, it is not a great site for new cave divers.
The Bonnet Spring system is accessible through a separate park entrance (see the ranger for the gate combination). At last report, however, this low, shallow, silty system was closed, due to the presence of a large gator in the basin.
Within short drive are Telford and Cow Springs, also on the north side of the Suwannee River.